50 AD to 70 AD, Psalm 50: Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving

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Roberts_Siege_and_Destruction_of_JerusalemThis generation is that of the 50s and 60s.

This generation is that of the destruction of the second temple (70).
It begins at the political level by the kingship of Agrippa II. The death of Agrippa I has removed all hope for Judea to remain a great power, become a Roman province,
Agrippa II was raised in Rome. The kingdom entrusted to him is illusory, he does not question the vassalage of Judea to Rome. He will be a Hellenistic sovereign faithful to Rome who does not hesitate to put himself on the side of Rome during the uprising that begins in 66.
After the destruction of Jerusalem, he continues to rule Jewish provinces and dies without lineage around 92 without leaving great traces in history.
During this generation and until the revolt of 66, many Roman procurators succeeded one another at the head of Judea pushing the exasperation of the Jews until the revolt of 66.
The Jewish revolt actually breaks out in 66:
  • The seizure [1] of the procurator Gessius Florus (64-66) on the treasure of the temple marks the transition from subversive actions of isolated groups to a general open revolt. Flavius Josephus gives us the date: 16 Artemisis (April / May) 66. Florus had to retreat to Caesarea and left Jerusalem only a Roman cohort. The zealots seized Massada and Jerusalem, the captain of the Temple, Eleazar, whose father was Anania the high priest, ordered the cessation of the daily sacrifice due to Caesar. This initiative constituted the decisive act of the rebellion and the official rupture of the hierosolymitan cultic community of with the Roman authority.
Following a first victory against the twelfth Roman legion in 66, the revolt is gaining momentum.

NAF-21013_f191_Vespasien_marchant_contre_les_JuifsTitus Fotolia_77031498_Subscription_Monthly_M rogneBut the Romans led by Vespasian then Titus then employed more adequate means. It was then three legions who tried to reconquer Judea accompanied by the twelfth legion that had been defeated by the Jews.

In 67, Galilee has already fallen and the fighting is concentrated on Jerusalem.
The insurgents of Jerusalem should have used the little time they had left before the clash with the Romans to strengthen their defenses and prepare the siege.
Instead, the various factions were leading a fratricidal struggle for power, causing the premature death of many fighters and the destruction of food that would have held siege for many years.
The lack of effort to strengthen the fortifications will allow Rome to make a breach and end up rushing to the heart of the city. Mismanagement of food will kill many insurgents and weaken most others, greatly reducing their ability to fight.
This war in faction ruined Jerusalem long before the Roman assault. But Rome at the same time is also prone to civil war in succession battles after Nero’s death. Rome and Jerusalem, Jacob and Esau prove once more their twinness.

1024px-Arch_of_Titus_Menorah_22

After a laborious siege, where the Jews tried belatedly against a fierce but useless resistance to the Romans, Jerusalem falls and in the confusion of the battle, the Temple is set on fire.
Before connecting the psalm to the tragic story of this generation that Jews commemorate each year on the anniversary of the destruction of the second temple, which coincides, according to tradition, with that of the first Temple and many tragic events for the Jews through their history, we must first look at the author of the psalm.
This psalm, in fact, is declined by Asaph and thus breaks the series of eight psalms, psalms forty-two to forty-nine, which were the work of the sons of Korah.
These psalms were, in a way, a plea for Korah, their grandfather who had opposed the high priest Aaron. Indeed in the forty-two generation, Aristobulus high priest, descendant of Aaron, had officially proclaimed himself king and thus cumulated the two powers, the religious and the political, whereas these had always been separated since the couple Moses / Aaron.
This largely tormented generation, where Judea is a Roman province and King Agrippa II lacking scope can not prevent the imminent disaster, sees the high priesthood even more flouted on the eve of the siege of Jerusalem:
  • In the fear [2] and despondency of the people, the presumption and power of those factious (those who had taken power in Jerusalem) went to such an extent that they dared to even have the great priesthood. They rejected the families who had been accustomed to possess it successively, and established in this high dignity persons without name and without birth, in order to make them accomplices of their crimes; people unworthy of so great a honor, who could not refuse to obey those who had brought them up there.
The fiftieth generation is the first generation of the second watch of the night.
The first forty-nine generations corresponded both to the forty-nine curses of Leviticus which were ginned one by one for each generation, and to the forty-nine generations in which the Jews lived in the presence of the Temple (the exile of Babylon represents only a short episode where the divine presence was not really removed from the Jewish people, to judge only the prophets who accompanied the Jews in this deportation).
The fiftieth generation sees the end of the temple and the beginning of the true exile of Israel within the nations that lasts ninety-eight generations are the last two watches of the night.
The forty-nine curses of Leviticus have just freed the Jewish people from the sin of the golden calf, for which Moses symbolically sacrificed the two temples by breaking the two tables of the law.
The ninety-eight curses of Deuteronomy will wash the people of Israel of its two other major faults in the desert when it asks for lack of trust in God, water and is afraid of to establish in the promised land after the explorers’ expedition.
The importance of these faults is that, although the people of Israel have witnessed divine miracles in order to extract them from slavery in Egypt, they have vowed to return to Egypt and repel the promised land.
The first watch was intended to disgust the people of Israel idolatrous worship, comparable to worship of the golden calf so that it becomes a people faithful to the divine covenant.
The curses of Deuteronomy that will take place during the last two night watches, during the long exile of the people of Israel within the nations, will eventually build a strong national identity to this people. In such a way that he no longer seeks his salvation except in the promised land by ceasing to be tempted to live among nations.
Leviticus describes in detail the sacrificial cult.
In Deuteronomy, which is a repetition by Moses of the law already enunciated in the other books of the Pentateuch, this one is nonexistent. Moses focuses on the laws that will remain after the destruction of the second temple, establishing if necessary laws of substitution for those dependent on the Temple.
Thus at the beginning of the Pentateuch, Moses recalls the events that brought the Jewish people to the threshold of the promised land, where they must abandon it. It also summarizes on this occasion, the exile of Israel when it evokes Esau, supposed to represent Rome dominant power throughout this exile.
Thus the future of Israel within the nations is traced: Israel will survive but can only survive as a pariah. He will only regain his dignity within the promised land, he will not be able to peacefully share the fate of nations within them.
Moses also announces the exile of the people of Israel, if he does not respect the holiness of the land of Israel:
  • And the Lord [3] will scatter you among the peoples, and you will remain few in number among the nations to where the Lord will lead you.
Before setting forth the commandments of Deuteronomy, Moses remembers their validity through time, thus valid for faith for the stay of the people of Israel in the promised land and in exile among the nations.
Moses recalls the substitutes for the laws which impose an addiction with the Temple of Jerusalem. The Jews in the desert had claimed to be able to eat meat, God allowed them to, although that removes the precepts of the future world. But only by respecting a minimum of laws designed to respect as much as possible the animal soul of animals considered pure enough to be eaten.
In particular, the rules of slaughter are strict and must be done in the temple.
However, because of the extent of the country at first, the slaughter is allowed elsewhere according to certain conditions. These rules established in Deuteronomy allow in fact especially to carry out a conformal slaughter during the exile.
In this generation that shifts from worship centered on the temple and sacrifice to one based on a direct relationship with God based on prayer, the cantor who only accompanied the high priest is projected in the foreground.
It is for this reason that the psalm of this generation is declined by Asaph who takes over from the Psalms of the sons of Korah.
These challenged the power entrusted to Aaron and his descendants, they won because the prescriptions of Leviticus concerning the temple can not be held for nearly two thousand years.
Before discussing the destruction of the second temple, therefore, it is necessary to identify the role of Asaph in the priesthood.
These are the Chronicles which specify the family origin of Asaph and his role:
  • On that day [4], David ordained to give thanks to the Lord by the hand of Asaph and his brethren.
The Psalms of Asaph are already mentioned by Hezekiah who calls him « Asaph the seer« :
  • And [5] King Hezekiah and the officer ordered the Levites to praise the Lord with the words of David and Asaph the seer, and they praised until they were joyful, and they bowed and prostrated themselves.
It is therefore normal that Asaph, who performs divine worship through his songs rather than holocausts, is the one who inaugurates through this psalm the time of exile, the one associated with the last two watches of the night. The service of the descendants of Aaron, who provided them with divine service by burnt offerings, was put to sleep as God had indicated in the sin of the golden calf when Moses had offered himself as an expiatory victim.
The destruction of the second temple comes at a key moment, when the irrational (the service of the temple associated with Leviticus) gives way to the rational (Deuteronomy associated with exile). The Jews will now turn to the nations by paying the high price throughout the ninety-eight generations of the two corresponding guards of their new cohabitation.
This is what the beginning of the Psalm of this generation expresses:

(extract of the psalm 50 associated to this generation, verses 1 to 15 )

  • A song of Asaph; God, God the Lord, spoke and called to the earth, from the rising of the sun until its setting.
    • The message of the Ten Commandments and the Torah that will now be known to nations: « from the rising sun »: the east and hence Islam, « until the setting sun »: the West and hence Christianity.
  • From Zion, the finery of beauty, God appeared.
  • Our God shall come and not be silent; fire shall devour before Him, and around Him it storms furiously.
    • Here is announced the destruction of the second temple
  • He shall call to the heavens above and to the earth to avenge His people.
  • Gather to Me My devoted ones, who made a covenant with Me over a sacrifice. 
    • Here reference is made to the sin of the golden calf that has been so sanctioned and for which now the people of Israel are forgiven through the destruction of the second temple, which constitutes the sacrifice made by Moses.
  • And the heavens will tell His righteousness, for He is a God Who judges forever.
  • Hearken, My people, and I will speak, Israel, and I will admonish you; God, even your God am I.
  • I will not reprove you concerning your sacrifices, neither are your burnt offerings before Me constantly.
  • I will not take from your household a bull, from your pens any goats.
  • For all the beasts of the forest are Mine, the behemoth of the thousand mountains.
  • I know all the fowl of the mountains, and the creeping things of the field are with Me.
  • If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are Mine.
  • Will I eat the flesh of bulls or do I drink the blood of he-goats?
  • Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving And pay your vows to the Most High;
  • And call to Me on a day of distress; I will rescue you and you will honor Me. 
    • This part announces the end of the sacrificial cult that accompanies the destruction of the second temple. This should not be considered a punishment, for these sacrifices were not really a divine need but had been ordered to keep the people of Israel from idol worship. Today, the people of Israel are mature enough to worship their God without offering them sacrifices. Thus during all the exile, the people of Israel will be able directly to address their God by acts of grace without having to make offerings. The people of Israel are thus armed to survive exile.
It is naturally in this direction that Palestinian Judaism engages with the Pharisaic movement.
While waiting for Judaism to be organized following the destruction of the second temple that will intervene in this generation, and therefore at the end of the sacrificial cult, another religion is born: Christianity.
After the death of Jesus, Christianity was only a Jewish sect that had attached to the Mosaic law the belief that Jesus was the much awaited Messiah.
Some ancient texts remind him:
  • He (Origen) [6] at least clearly saw and cleared the relationship between ebionism on the one hand to Judaism and on the other hand to the early Church. Responding to the pagan polemicist, who blames the Christians from Judaism for changing their name and their way of life, he declares: « Celsus does not know that those Jews who believe in Jesus have not abandoned the law of their fathers; they live in accordance with it and their name comes from the poverty of this law. For the poor is called among the Jews « ebion » and those of the Jews who recognize Jesus as the Christ are called « Ebionéens ». And he adds: « Peter himself seems to have long observed the Jewish customs according to the law of Moses, as he had not learned from Jesus to rise from the literal law to the spiritual law. » Then, according to the account of the Acts, a precise statement of the disputes between Palestinians and Hellenists in the first Christian community. This is the exact historical perspective, unknown to most ancient heresiologists.
The first Christians from Judaism will soon be in the minority.
Because many pagans are seduced by the nascent religion. Those who adopt the new religion are often those who were previously attracted to Judaism in general.
Judaism was lawful religion in the Roman Empire at that time, the God of Israel was respected by many Romans who considered him as the only God or reserved him a place of choice in their polytheistic pantheon.
Before the advent of Christianity, on the sidelines of Judaism and the Jews, lived many pagans faithful to the principles of Judaism, without being able to adhere to it, the « God-fearing ». In relation to this potential clientele of Christianity, the first apostles tried, like the Jews before them, to convince them of the value of their message without calling into question the foundations of the original religion, the Jewish religion.
The ease of adherence to Christianity by the God fearing is evoked several times, especially for the conversion of Lydia (Acts chapter 16, verses 11-15).
This greater permeability of the God-fearing than the Jews with the Christian precepts is also evoked in the Gospels. The resistance of the Jews to Christianity does not change the attitude of the first apostles towards them or the Mosaic law.
The break is caused by Paul who refuses to see Christianity next to Judaism.

Paul_de_TarsePaul wants everyone to join Christianity. Thus the Jews’ resistance to Paul’s preaching draws his anger. Because of the resistance of the Jews to Christianity, Paul naturally turns to this reservoir of pagans already sensitized to Monotheism. Instead of merely allowing them to apply only part of the law, he prefers to declare it obsolete.

If early Christians were representatives of a Jewish sect who had added to the Mosaic Law the belief that the long-awaited Messiah had been incarnated in Jesus, so it is Paul who presumably shifts this sect into the religion we know.
It is especially in « Romans » that Paul promulgates the foundations of Christianity: faith in the place of the law and thus initiating the break between Judaism, the mother religion and the nascent religion: Christianity.
He justifies by Jesus the passage from the law to the faith. The death and the resurrection of Jesus justifying, among others, this passage from the law to the faith. Faith, because the law is now obsolete.
Paul’s speech, intended for the Gentiles, seems in the first part of his epistle to seal the decay of the people of Israel to the benefit of the Christians, the new Israel. The second part tries to restore the particular destiny of this one, or at least of a part (« the rest ») of this one.
But in a way the harm is done, what will hold the Christians, or at least the majority of them, during the twenty centuries that will follow is the final decay of the law and the Jewish people in favor of the faith and the Christian people, the new Israel.
When Paul evokes the validity of the Old Testament he does not hesitate to use as an image the temporal character of David. The fact that David was directly « involved » in Paul’s speech still justifies the fact that it is Asaph who declines this psalm, David being able to be labeled as « non-objectivity ».
This freedom that Paul takes on the validity of the law, not hesitating to rely on the character of David attracts the wrath of Asaph, editor of this psalm, whose verses that follow are a judgment without complacency of Paul’s doctrine:

(extract of the psalm 50 associated to this generation, verses 16 to 19 )

 

  • But to the wicked man God said, « For what reason do you recount My statutes, and bring up My covenant on Your mouth?
  • For you hated discipline and threw My words behind you.
  • If you saw a thief, you agreed [to be] with him, and with adulterers is your portion.
  • You let loose your mouth for evil, and you accustomed your tongue to deceit.

 

Anger of Asaph all the more justified that Paul does not just sacrifice the law to allow the pagans to improve their knowledge of God, He does not hesitate to reject at the same time as the law his own people.
Paul does not hesitate in the letter to Titus to pronounce the rupture with his old people.
It is this position that Asaph reproaches Paul for the following verses of the psalm. Because of these theories, the Jewish people were exposed to hatred on the part of Christians for nearly two thousand years, during the entire period of exile:

(extract of the psalm 50 associated to this generation, verses 20 and 21 )

 

  • You sit and talk against your brother; you slander your mother’s son.
  • You did these and I remained silent; you thought that I would be like you. I will contend with you and set up before your eyes.

 

In fact, Paul’s position was singular because most of the apostles wanted a Judaism-like Christianity that respected the law. But Paul’s choice is much more appealing to all candidates for Christianity from the pagan world.
Compared to this population, Christians of Jewish origin will quickly become a minority. Their will to keep the law will go out quickly in the new church. Already James worries in the name of all the Jews of Jerusalem attracted by the Christian faith of the eventual abandonment of the law of Moses resulting from the positions of Paul.
But Asaph, in the name of God, does not want to ban people of good will, including the Gentiles who turn to Christianity. Those who will know how to preserve justice and who praise God, whatever his liturgy, will be recognized by God as the just.
This is expressed in the conclusion of the psalm of this generation:

(extract of the psalm 50 associated to this generation, verses 22 and 23 )

  • Understand this now, you who forget God, lest I tear [you] to pieces, and there will be no one to save [you].
  • He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors Me; And to him who orders his way aright I shall show the salvation of God.

 

 

 

This obviously applies to the Jewish people who, deprived of sacrificial worship, establish, under the aegis of the Pharisaic movement, a worship based on prayer, the synagogue and therefore thanksgiving. It is from this movement that the lineages of rabbis who succeed each other in order to establish Jewish orthodoxy are born.

 

 

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[1]  « History of the Jews in Antiquity » by Peter Schäfer, French translation by Pascale Schulte, Chapter « The First Jewish War ». (French: « Histoire des Juifs dans l’Antiquité », Chapitre « La première guerre Juive », p 145 ).

[2] Josephus Flavius / Jewish Wars / Book Four / Chapter 11. (French: Flavius Josèphe/Guerre des Juifs/Livre quatrième/Chapitre 11 ).

[3] Devarim – Deuteronomy – Chapter 4, verse 27

[4] Divrei Hayamim I – I Chronicles – Chapter 16, verse 7

[5] Divrei Hayamim II – II Chronicles – Chapter 29, verse 30

[6] VERUS ISRAEL by Marcel Simon, « Contacts and Syncretisms / Destinies of Judeo-Christianity ». (French: « VERUS ISRAËL », « Contacts et Syncrétismes/Destinées du Judéo-Christianisme », page 286).